Zbigniew Boniek, a legend of Polish football.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons
At the start of the 1970s many of the countries around Europe could look back with some nostalgia at some of its fine footballers and teams throughout the 1950s and 1960s. Most countries had unearthed some real talent and achieved some relative success. However, Poland was one country that had struggled. It hadn't qualified for a World Cup since 1938 and hadn't been able to produce players of the quality of nearby Hungary, Czechoslovakia or Austria.
However, all that changed in 1974 when Poland finally qualified for the World Cup again and then took the tournament by storm, started a period for Polish football that would see two golden generations of Polish football in the space of three World Cups.
Since that breakthorugh tournament in 1974, Poland has gone on to produce some fantastic world-class footballers. So, here's a look at some of our favourites...
A superb player who was considered amongst the world's greatest footballers in the early 1980s. Great dribbling skills and technique, combined with blistering pace, particularly his speed off the mark, made him extremely dangerous, and his surging runs from midfield would prove a nightmare for defenders. He was intelligent and hardworking too, and all of these attributed meant that he was capabale of playing in any number of attacking positions, be it out wide on the wing, or as an attacking midfielder, or as a second striker. Boniek himself preferred a central free role, moving between the lines to pick up the ball before his trademark surging runs at defences.
At club level he's best known for his time with Juventus, appearing alongside Michel Platini as one of the club's two allowed foreign players, helping the club secure their first ever European Cup in 1985. His form for Juventus in these midweek European matches led to the club's president, Gianni Agnelli, nicknaming him "Bello di notte" (Beauty at night).
At international level he really made a name for himself at the 1982 World Cup in Spain, his fantastic performances helping Poland to an impressive third place.
Clubs: Zawisza Bydgoszcz, Widzew Lódz, Juventus, Roma.
Some people keep on doubting that Lewandowski is the real deal, but he keeps on scoring the goals. A great forward, his movement, intelligence, technical ability and most of all his finishing, made him one of the world’s greatest strikers in the 2010s. He won the treble with Bayern in 2019-20 (league, cup, Champions League) and was the top scorer in all three competitions. His record in the Bundesliga is phenomenal, he’s been the league’s top-scorer on five occasions, is also the Bundesliga’s all-time highest foreign goal-scorer and in 2021 he broke Gerd Müller's 49-year-old Bundesliga goal-scoring record for a single season.
Clubs: Delta Warsaw, Znicz Pruszków, Lech Poznan, Borussia Dortmund, Bayern Munich.
Instantly recognisable in the 1970s with his Bobby Charlton-esque comb-over, it wasn't just his hairstyle that made Grzegorz Lato stand out, his play on the right wing was fantastic. With his electrifying pace and direct style, he was a real handful for defenders. He was part of the Poland's first golden generation of footballers who became the surprise outfit at the 1974 World Cup, Lato top-scoring in the tournament with an incredible seven goals as Poland finished in third place, their best ever result at a major tournament.
Unfortunately, despite having been only 24 at the 197 World Cup and being in the form of his life, Poland had a ban at the time on their footballers moving abroad until they’d reached 30, so it was only at major international tournaments that Lato's talents could be showcased. Having played his entire career with Stal Mielec, Lato was eventually allowed to move to a foreign team in 1980, when he reached his thirtieth birthday, and moved to Lokeren in Belgium.
Clubs: Stal Mielec, Lokeren, Atlante, Polonia Hamilton.
Andrzej Szarmach came to prominence at the 1974 World Cup, with regular striker Wlodzimierz Lubanski missing, Szarmach got the nod to play up front and really grasped the opportunity, forming a fantastic attacking partnership alongside wingers Grzegorz Lato and Robert Gadocha, with Deyna prompting and pulling the strings behind them. Szarmach would end the tournament with five goals, the joint second highest scorer alongside Johan Neeskens, just behind team-mate Lato's total of seven goals. He would also go on to play at the 1978 and 1982 World Cups.
At club level Szarmach suffered the same fate as the other players of the golden generation of the 1974 Word Cup, Poland refusing to let footballers play in foreign leagues until they were thirty years old. For Szarmach this would be 1980, the same year as his Stal Mielec team-mate Grzegorz Lato. Whilst Lato headed for Belgium, Szarmach went to France, enjoying five years with Auxerre where he scored nearly 100 goals in 150 games. It seemed like quite a fitting move, given his iconic Asterix-style moustache.
Clubs: Arka Gdynia, Górnik Zabrze, Stal Mielec, Auxerre, Guingamp, Clermont Foot.